During World Breastfeeding Week, Lamaze’s Science and Sensibility blog published an interesting and thought-provoking guest post called “Instructor Has A Clear Bias Toward Breastfeeding!” The post explores a birth educator’s experience with teaching breastfeeding classes and receiving the title phrase on one of her evaluations. She is very disturbed by the evaluation and offers this profound and potent reminder: “We must not leave mothers less than whole.”
While I very much appreciate this observation and reminder, we also absolutely need to remember that biased means to exhibit “unfair prejudice”–it simply IS NOT “biased” to support breastfeeding as the biological norm and most appropriate food for babies. I was very concerned to read the comments on the post from other educators talking about their own “biases” toward physiologic birth or breastfeeding and how carefully they guard against exhibiting any such bias in their classes. Hold on! Remember that the burden of proof rests on those who promote an intervention—birth educators and breastfeeding educators should not be in a position of having to “prove” or “justify” the biological norm of unmedicated births or breastfed babies. I hate to see birth instructors being cautioned to avoid being “biased” in teaching about breastfeeding or birth, because in avoiding the appearance of bias they’d be lying to mothers. You can’t “balance” two things that are NOT equal and it is irresponsible to try out of a misplaced intention not to appeared biased. So, while I appreciate some of this educator’s points, I do think she’s off the mark in her fear/guilt and her acceptance of the word “bias.” The very fact that making a statement that someone has a bias toward breastfeeding can be accepted as a reasonable critique is indicative of how very deeply the problem goes and how systemic of an issue it is. If I say that drinking plenty of water is a good idea and is healthier for your body than drinking other liquids, no one ever accuses me of having a “bias towards water.” Breastfeeding should be no different. But, as we all know, breastfeeding occurs in a social, cultural, political, and economic context, one that all too often does not value, support, or understand the process.
This reminds me of an excellent section in the book Mother’s Intention: How Belief Shapes Birth about judgment and bias. The author also address how the word “balanced” is misused in childbirth education–as in, “I’m taking a class at the hospital because it will be more balanced.” Balance means “to make two parts equal”–-what if the two parts aren’t equal though? What is the value of information that appears balanced, but is not factually accurate? Pointing out inequalities and giving evidence-based information does not make an educator “biased” or judgmental-–it makes her honest! (though honesty can be “heard” as judgment when it does not reflect one’s own opinions or experiences). (formerly quoted in this post. And, see this post for some thoughts about pleonasms.)
I do value the reminder that pregnant and postpartum mothers are vulnerable and how we speak to them really matters. I know that. I also worry that too much “tender” speech regarding breastfeeding as a “choice,” a “personal decision” and “we support you no matter what”—leaves the door wide open for continued systemic support of a bottle feeding culture that treats formula feeding and breastfeeding as similar or interchangeable. I’m not sure what the answer is. Maternal wholeness matters, so does breastfeeding!